Allstate Sugar Bowl - Oklahoma v Alabama

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 5 Oklahoma

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2013 record: 11-2 overall, 7-2 in Big 12 Conference (tied 2nd in conference)
2013 postseason: Sugar Bowl vs. Alabama (45-31 win)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 6/No. 6
Head coach: Bob Stoops (160-39 overall; 160-39 in 15 years at Oklahoma)
Co-offensive coordinators: Josh Heupel (9th year at Oklahoma) and Jay Norvell (6th year)
2013 offensive rankings: 18th rushing offense (223.9 ypg); 90th passing offense (199.1 ypg); 52nd total offense (423 ypg); 40th scoring offense (32.8 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: five
Defensive coordinator: Mike Stoops (eight years at Oklahoma)
2013 defensive rankings: 25th rushing defense (137.6 ypg); 30th passing defense (212.5 ypg);  20th total defense (350.2 ypg); 22nd scoring defense (22.1 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: nine
Location: Norman, Oklahoma
Stadium: Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium (82,112; grass)
Last conference title: 2012 (co-champions with Kansas State)

THE GOOD
The Sooners lay claim to the best defense in the Big 12 conference. The unit finished 20th overall in total defense last season, which is an impressive feat considering the wide-open offenses seen during conference play. The defense is led by outside linebacker Eric Striker. Striker is one of the most intimidating defenders in the country. Not only is the linebacker one of the most explosive edge rushers in college football, but the Sooners move him around throughout the game to keep offenses on their heels. It’s nearly impossible for an offense to key on a specific defender and set their blocking schemes if they don’t know where he’s going to be lined up on a down-by-down basis. The team’s linebackers as a whole are very talented. Leading tackler Frank Shannon won’t play this season due to suspension, but senior Geneo Grissom showed how dangerous he can be opposite Striker with 2.5 sacks against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. And inside linebacker Dominique Alexander was named the 2013 Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. Both starting cornerbacks return as does strong safety Quentin Hayes. The defense will also get a boost when the massive (6-6, 334) Jordan Phillips returns to the lineup as the starting nose tackle after missing the final 10 weeks of the season due to a back injury. The Sooners defense is talented, aggressive and experienced. Even if Oklahoma’s offense struggles during stretches, the defense is good enough to win games for them this season.

THE BAD
If the Sooners are going to be earn a spot in the first College Football Playoff, the team absolutely has to be more consistent at the quarterback position. Expectations are sky high for Trevor Knight (see: below) after his surprising and dominant performance against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl. Knight has to prove it wasn’t an one-game aberration. The most damning evidence against Oklahoma’s quarterbacks last year was finishing ninth (out of 10 teams) in the Big 12 in passing offense. The ability to stretch the field vertically opens up the rest of the offense, but Oklahoma was never able to do so last year until the bowl game. And for a quarterback to be able to open up the offense, he has to have reliable receivers. Junior wide receiver Sterling Shephard will have to develop into a No. 1 target after finishing second on the team last season with 51 receptions for 603 yards. The Sooners’ other projected starters at wide receiver, Durron Neal and Derrick Woods, combined to make 15 receptions for 205 yards. Consistency at quarterback and wide receiver will be the primary indicator of how successful the Sooners are in 2014.

THE UNKNOWN
The University of Oklahoma suspended two of the team’s most talented players in Shannon and running back Joe Mixon prior to the start of the season for the entirety of 2014 campaign. Plus, the team hoped Missouri transfer Dorial Green-Beckham would be eligible to play this season. The NCAA denied Green-Beckam’s transfer waiver, and the wide receiver will have to wait until next year to make a mark with the Sooners…if he does at all. These are three very talented players that would have contributed plenty to the Sooners this season. Shannon was the team’s leading tackler in 2013. Sophomore Jordan Evans, who played in eight games last season as a true freshman, will take over for Shannon. The Sooners’ passing game will have to rely heavily on Shepard due to the lack of experience with the rest of the team’s wide receivers. Keith Ford and Alex Ross will split reps without the explosive Mixon being a part of the running back stable. Of the three, the junior linebacker’s suspension could prove to be the most problematic this season, while the team will simply have to wait another year to receive contributions from Mixon and Green-Beckham.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. Tennessee
The scheduling within the Big 12 Conference is so underwhelming an one-loss Sooners’ squad might be the team on the outside looking in during the inaugural College Football Player. It’s quite possible Oklahoma will slip up at least once during Big 12 play. The reason the Tennessee game is so important is due to it being the team’s only non-conference game against a Power Five opponent. The Volunteers may have been 5-7 last season, but their affiliation with the SEC holds plenty of water. The game will be a test to see how Oklahoma stacks up against the best conference in college football. A resounding victory by Oklahoma will show the Sooners are superior to the SEC’s middle class. And it will leave a positive impression in the playoff committee’s collective mind as the Sooners attempt to navigate their treacherous conference schedule.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: QB Trevor Knight
Knight made it look easy against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl. The ball effortlessly flew out of the quarterback’s hand as he broke a Sugar Bowl record with 32 completions for 348 yards and four touchdowns. Knight’s performance in the bowl game leaves a lasting impression on Heisman voters and provides momentum as he enters his first season as a full-time starter. The reality, though, is Knight didn’t play well during the regular season. Knight won the starting job in fall camp last year only to hand the spot back to Blake Bell. Knight’s highest output in a single game before his explosion against Alabama was 171 passing yards. In fact, Knight only passed for 471 yards and five touchdowns during his previous eight appearances. But Knight’s Heisman candidacy is based purely on potential. If Knight can play at the same level seen against Alabama throughout the 2014 campaign, the Sooners will be one of the best teams in college football and the quarterback will be sitting in New York City waiting to hear his name called as the latest Heisman Trophy winner.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Report: Gus Malzahn hands play-calling reins to OC

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn reacts to a play during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Arkansas on Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
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Following yet another pedestrian performance last Saturday, Gus Malzahn took his play-calling to task.

“Hadn’t been very good,” the Auburn head coach said Wednesday. “It’s gotta be better. It’s gotta be better and it will get better.”

To get better, and avoid the further heating of his coaching seat, Malzahn has elected to fire himself.

Citing a source with knowledge of the situation, al.com is reporting that offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee will call plays in place of Malzahn in what’s almost a must-win game for the coach and the team tonight against LSU.  The website writes that “[t]his isn’t the first time Lashlee has called plays in a pivotal game for Auburn… [as] Lashlee called the plays in Auburn’s 26-10 win at Texas A&M last season, the last SEC win for the Tigers.”

Since that game, the Tigers have lost three in a row in conference play.

Lashlee will be orchestrating an offense that, thus far this season, is tied for 86th in scoring offense (26.7 ppg).  Take out the 51 points AU scored against Arkansas State in Week 2, and the Tigers averaging 16 points per game against Power Five teams.

WATCH: Like his team, Mark Dantonio disappeared during blowout loss

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 03:  Head coach Mark Dantonio of the Michigan State Spartans looks on during warm ups against the Wisconsin Badgers during the Big 10 Conference Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 3, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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Who knew that Mark Dantonio was into prestidigitation?

As you already know by now, No. 8 Michigan State was overwhelmed and embarrassed by No. 11 Wisconsin Saturday afternoon, then taken to the woodshed for good measure in a not-as-close-as-it-sounds 30-6 loss in East Lansing.  The Spartans’ running game was practically non-existent on the afternoon (2.8 yards per carry), and its special teams weren’t much better.

Those two phases of the game essentially disappeared for the whole of the blowout, as did their head coach at one point in the contest.

Take that, Houdini. Or Whodini, if you were a Sparty fan wondering when your team was going to get to the good part…

Ken Starr describes Art Briles as ‘an honorable man who conducted an honorable program’

WACO, TX - OCTOBER 17:  Head coach Art Briles of the Baylor Bears looks on as the Bears take on the West Virginia Mountaineers in the second half at McLane Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Waco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Oh boy.

Earlier this year, Art Briles was dismissed as the head coach at Baylor in the midst of the sexual assault scandal that rocked both the football program and the Baptist university.  Not long after, president Ken Starr followed the head coach out the door.

Briles embarrassingly began his redemption tour earlier this year with a tone-deaf interview that was overwhelmingly panned.  Starr, in an interview during something called the Texas Tribune Festival Saturday, likely trumped that level of embarrassment in the eyes of many as the former president vociferously defended his former coach.

“I believe that Coach Briles is an honorable man who conducted an honorable program,” Starr said by way of the Austin American-Statesman.

At least two of Briles’ players were convicted of sexual assault committed while they were Bears football players.  Several other players were accused of committing either sexual assault or violence — or both — while playing for Briles.

An outside review, the details of which have never been made public, accused the school of mishandling rape allegations and alleged that the football program, Briles and his coaching staff included, felt it was above the law.

In one of the lawsuits filed that stem from the rape allegations, one woman claimed that the school and the program were deliberately indifferent to her claims of rape.  Despite the appearance of a cultural issue that was pervasive at the Waco school, Starr declined to concur.

“I disagree with the sense that there was a fundamental failure,” said Starr. “I love Title IX. It has been an instrument of great, great reform … [but] the pendulum has swung much too far in one direction. …

“I’m going to resist the issue, or the characterization, that there was an endemic problem. Is there in fact a cultural insensitivity to issues of interpersonal violence? That was not the case at Baylor and is still not the case at Baylor.”

You know that feeling when you’re absolutely positive you should stop talking but simply can’t? When you have the right to remain silent but not the ability?  Yeah, that.

Rocky Slop: Tennessee comes up empty twice inside 10-yard line, Florida leads 21-3

KNOXVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 10: Joshua Dobbs #11 of the Tennessee Volunteers carries the ball against the Georgia Bulldogs on October 10, 2015 at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee. Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
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If this was supposed to be the year Tennessee finally came out on top in the SEC East, the Florida Gators did not get the memo. Florida is up 21-3 on Tennessee in Knoxville at the half, thanks in part to a Vols offense that has imploded inside the 10-yard line twice in the first half. Tennessee was booed off the field, while on offense, as the final seconds ticked away in the first half. It has been 11 long years since experiencing a win over Florida, so you can imagine the pent-up frustration the home crowd has.

The tempers flared right from the opening kickoff, with Tennessee being called for an unsportsmanlike penalty on the opening kickoff, giving Florida 15 free yards without running a play. Two plays later, Florida starting quarterback Austin Appleby completed a 51-yard pass to Antonio Callaway to the Tennessee four-yard line. Three plays later, the Gators jumped on the Vols with a short pass from Appleby to DeAndre Goolsby for a 7-0 lead right out of the gates.

Tennessee looked to catch a huge break on special teams when Callaway failed to hold on to a punt. Tennessee recovered at the Gators’ two-yard line but was unable to punch it in from the door step on four straight plays. Marcus Maye broke up a pass from Joshua Dobbs intended for Alvin Kamara on fourth down. Down 14-0 in the second quarter, thanks to a touchdown pass from Appleby to Jordan Cronkrite to finish off a 93-yard drive, the Vols worked their way back to inside the 10-yard line and seeing a chance to build some momentum. That hope was dashed when Quincy Wilson picked off a pass from Dobbs to the back of the end zone on third and goal.

Florida turned what could have been three or seven points for Tennessee into a 21-point lead. On the first play of the ensuing possession following the turnover in the end zone, Apply picked up 20 yards through the air with Callaway hauling in a pass.Later, on 2nd and 3, Appleby completed a 36-yard pass to Tyrie Cleveland, and a few plays later it was 21-0 after a video review to confirm Jordan Scarlett had punched one in from the one-yard line.

Nothing has gone well for the Vols, but credit Florida for making the plays they have bene making. The Gators have made plays on both sides of the football and avoided letting a special teams hiccup burn them.